As you may or may not have heard, the Yankees are hurting for some catching help. In a perfect world, Russell Martin would have signed a one- or two-year pact to stay and allowed the club to develop one of their better prospects in Gary Sanchez without rushing him. Once thought of as a back-up in case Jesus Montero didn’t pan out behind the plate, Sanchez is now is the de facto #1 catching prospect in the the Yankees system and with good reason.
Last season, Baseball America ranked Sanchez as the #4 best prospect in the Yankees system before Montero was shipped to Seattle for Pineda. The 20-year-old catcher stands at 6-2, 195 lbs. and can handle the bat. Plus, he’s getting a little better defensively behind the plate too. Baseball America had this to say about him:
Sanchez has a purer swing and more patience at the plate than Jesus Montero … Sanchez has similar raw power, too, and scouts project him as a plus hitter in terms of both average and pop.
He started the season at Charleston in the South Atlantic League where he hit .297/.353/.517 (136 wRC+) in 289 PAs. Halfway through the year he was moved up to the A+ ball playing for the Tampa Yankees. He took a tiny, but expected, step backward when he recorded a .279/.330/.436 slash line with a 118 wRC+ in his promotion.
He progressed nicely last season by surpassing his totals in home runs (18), stolen bases (15), and RBIs (85). However, despite fewer ABs, he struck out more (106 in 2012 vs. 93 in 2011) and walked fewer times (32 in 2012 vs. 36 in 2011), both heading in the wrong direction. Saying that, his promotion to Tampa directly impacts those two numbers, where he had 41 K’s and only 10 walks in 185 PA. For those scoring at home, his walk rate dropped by almost 2% with his promotion to Tampa, but his strikeout rate stayed the same (~22%) — better pitching means fewer walks, it’s really that simple.
Probably what’s so surprising is his defense, at least throwing out runners, is getting a little better. In his first two years behind the plate he was below average with his arm. He averaged a -0.2 in the wSB department (Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing runs above average). However, in 2011 he finally recorded a positive rating (0.2) and improved upon that in 2012 with a 0.7 mark. For some prospective, Jesus Montero averaged ~-0.3 in the minors and had a -1.4 wSB rating with the Mariners last season. I’m not saying Sanchez the greatest defensive catcher in the world, but with his bat and average defensive prowess (he did allow 18 passed balls last season, which was an improvement over the 26 he allowed in 2011) he could be a key cog in the Yankees machine going forward.
One alarming aspect to Sanchez’s career so far is his BABIP, and it’s true for almost every minor league player. Throughout his young career he’s been on the high end of the BABIP spectrum. For instance, in 2012 his BABIP rested around .345, whereas in 2011 he was in line with what a normal MLB player would record (.308). In 2011, he hit .256/.335/.485, which is probably more indicative of how he’ll hit in the majors, if he continues on his current career track.
He’s a great prospect for the Yankees in a position of absolute need in the immediate future. While he’s still 2-3 seasons away, you can see him steadily improving. He’ll most likely spend most of the season in Tampa with a slight chance of making it to Trenton by year’s end. He still needs work on calling a game and his defense as a whole, but it is improving. He also has to decrease his strikeout totals, which stems from going deep into counts looking for his pitch (The Yankee Way™, amirite?). Unless they trade him away, this is the Yankees future long-term catcher.